Biola ranks third in tier for high retention rate
Biola's retention rate is 66%. The remaining percent do not graduate from Biola. | Tyler Otte/THE CHIMES
Of all the students who start attending Biola as freshmen, 33 percent will not graduate from Biola.
Biola's retention rate higher than other Christian schools
Despite that daunting number, Biola’s student retention is actually 12 percent higher than the average Christian school, as reported by a survey conducted by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, making Biola third in its tier as a national university, according to U.S. News and World Report rankings.
The retention rates suggest that in any given class, most students that do not return will leave Biola after their first year, according to Carrie Stockton, director of Academic Advising and Student Retention.
“On average Biola loses about 15 percent of our freshmen cohort from their freshman to sophomore year,” Stockton said. “Typically [the University] loses about half of that the next year and half of that the year after, so around 65 percent or 66 percent are actually graduating and you actually lose another 20 percent of your class in the last three years. The attrition is the highest in the freshman to sophomore year.”
Biola is ranked 108th in the nation when it comes to retention rates after freshman year, according to U.S. News’ survey of national retention rates. Universities like Yale and Columbia top the charts, but few Christian institutions were able to surpass Biola.
In an article published by Azusa Pacific University in 2010, APU has a 55 percent graduation rate, which is 11 percent lower than that of Biola, despite their tuition being slightly less expensive. Although Biola has higher retention rates, tuition is also higher and because of that, students struggle to make ends meet.
Students leave to avoid heavy debt from high tuition
Sarah Yost, who would have been a sophomore this year had she stayed at Biola, said that getting a Christ-centered education is difficult to do because of cost.
“I had a scholarship, but it wasn’t enough to cover tuition,” Yost said. “I wasn’t able to bridge that gap and it was already kind of tight. It was already a stretch and [tuition] goes up more and you can’t do it.”
She left Biola to work and attend community college in Texas, with the hopes of getting a Christian education either at Biola or another Christian university in the future.
Similarly, Abigail Bishop, who would have been a senior this year, was not able to come back because of the cost. Bishop lost her Cal Grant when the qualifications changed earlier this year and decided not to return to Biola to avoid heavy debt.
Some students dissatisfied with retention rate
Another person who was well aware of the financial difficulties that students go through was sophomore Rachel Palumbo who recalled that her roommate was unable to return when her scholarship was docked. Her roommate had planned to take some time off and return to Biola later but was not able to receive the scholarship again if she left. Palumbo also lost her second roommate to lack of finances as well.
Even though Biola has higher retention rates than most, many students were still disheartened by the absence of so many peers this semester and blamed the university for their loss.
“I think [Biola] could have worked more with their students to help them come back,” Palumbo said.
Palumbo recalled her roommate’s story and said that her roommate tried really hard to contact financial aid and they would not get back to her for long periods of time. Finally, she was unable to return despite her best efforts to work with Biola for a solution.
Biola makes an effort to keep students enrolled
Stockton tried to encourage Biola’s disheartened students by explaining what the university does in their efforts to keep students around.
“I chair a retention council at Biola that has 14 members from all branches of the university from student development ... to financial aid,” Stockton said. “We basically look at data and look at what students are saying both qualitatively and quantitatively and identify the issues that are impacting retention and how we can act on what is happening in any given year.”
According to Stockton, only about one-third of students fill out departure cards when they leave so it is hard to definitively know the main reason they left. While financial difficulties seem to be the majority of students’ reason for leaving, many students also leave because of dissatisfaction with an academic program, academic struggles or personal reasons.
Resources for students struggling financially
For those who are struggling with financing a Biola education, Stockton encourages students to come to the Advising Center or the financial aid office so they can get an accurate assessment of their unique situations. She said it is worth having a conversation about and trying to determine some creative options financially.
“In a lot of ways it is a process of introspection and planning and making sure it’s the right time and the right place for them,” Stockton said. “But I think that Biola obviously wants to see students graduate. There’s nothing in us that doesn’t want students to come back.”
Bishop wanted to recommend to students who were facing the same types of situations to look into what is best for them.
“There are some logistics in cost about going to Biola, but I would say that for me, I prayed a lot and thought that maybe Biola wasn’t where the Lord wanted me to be,” Bishop said. “Then I got offered [a position at my home church]. Just after praying and thinking about it a lot, I felt that Biola wasn’t the best fit for me at this point in my life. I think you really need to pray and ask yourself, ‘Is this where the Lord is leading me?’”